Cockburn is a Harvard man, so he wasn’t entirely surprised by the allegations that Brett Kavanaugh, the beer-drinking flower of Yale manhood, might not have been a gentleman all his life. Still, Cockburn was surprised by today’s news that, after protests from student groups, Kavanaugh will not be teaching his regular guest course at Harvard Law School.
It’s Cockburn’s job to prejudge a case; he’s a journalist. But the students at Harvard Law are our future lawyers and judges. They’re meant to be learning not to jump to conclusions. They’re also meant to be learning to trust the FBI to gather more facts about the case.
Cockburn contacted faculty at Harvard Law, to see if these experts in legal procedure had any qualms about Kavanaugh’s sudden non-employment. But not one of them one dared to go on the record, whether under their own name or anonymously. Such is the climate of free speech and intellectual liberty at one of America’s better law schools.
‘You can name me,’ said Harvey Mansfield, political philosopher, Professor of Government, scourge of grade inflation, and author, among other works, of Manliness.
‘The way Kavanaugh’s nomination has gone is a disgrace,’ Mansfield told Cockburn. ‘To me, the overall consideration is that a nominee of his quality to the Supreme Court shouldn’t lose out because of uncorroborated and contradicted accusations about events 36 years ago. In the hearing, I think both sides, Dr Ford and Judge Kavanaugh, came out as convincing and sincere. So I don’t know what the truth of it is between them, but I do not think that, given the record of Judge Kavanaugh on the bench and the fragility of the accusation, that he should lose his position because of it.’
Cockburn asked whether Kavanaugh jumped or was pushed from his guest spot at Harvard.
‘I expect he decided that was not a fight he needed to make,’ Mansfield replied. ‘If he gets the nomination, then he wouldn’t be here anyway. This is just for a January term, a temporary one-month lectureship at the Harvard Law School.’
Kavanaugh has taught at Harvard for 10 years. In that time, no charges of inappropriate behaviour have been brought. Were the students justified in protesting Kavanaugh’s re-appointment?
‘No, I don’t so. I think they’re totally wrong. But there seems to be quite a few of them. I think they’ve simply accepted the accusation of one party that seems to me vague and unfactual, though sincerely made. Dr Ford made a very good impression with her testimony, but I think Judge Kavanaugh also was convincing in the part of angry defendant.’
Is Mansfield, a campus veteran at 86 years of age, surprised to learn that law students are prejudging a case?
‘I’m no longer surprised. It’s become so usual for law schools. The faculty leads the way and the students follow.’
Cockburn wonders if #MeToo is returning to its place of birth. If so, Kavanaugh won’t be the only big name to fall. As anyone who’s spent time on campus knows, it’s not just when it comes to striking legal positions that the faculty often lead the way and the students follow.